Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Aly Raisman Profile for Jewish Woman Magazine

It's no secret that I love Aly Raisman despite the form issues so I was thrilled to get a chance to write a profile about her for Jewish Woman Magazine.

Photo by Heather Maynez

Though it was too close to the Games to speak to Aly herself, I did get a chance to speak to her mother and found her smart, funny, and forthcoming with her opinions. So basically your typical Jewish woman.

The best thing I learned--that it was Martha Karolyi who suggested that Aly use Jewish wedding music for her floor routine. Is Martha a fan of Fiddler on the Roof? Somebody check her Netflix queu.

Read the whole story here.

And thanks to Heather Maynez for providing the fabulous photos that accompanied the piece.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

40th Anniversary of Olga Korbut in The Atlantic

Here's my piece on the ramifications of Olga Korbut's performance 40 years ago in Munich. For those of that have no idea who she is, check out this video from 1972:

She electrified the crowd and the world with her difficulty and her utterly charming personality. But more importantly, she began a new trend of a revolving door of young teen stars with a high degree of difficulty that continues to this day. Or did she?

Check out the story here.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Meet the Superhumans

As much as I love gymnasts and the rest of the athletes at the Olympic Games, the Paralympians are hands down the most remarkable athletes in London.

Check out the excellent promo video for Paralympic Games, which immediately follow the "regular" ones. As the video so convincingly demonstrates, these guys are extraordinary.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Another Heresy on the High Beam Review

Gymnastike was kind enough to review my essay collection, Heresy on the High Beam: Confessions of an Unbalanced Jewess for their site. (Definitely check it out if you haven't already since they have tons of videos and meet coverage.) If you haven't already purchased it after all of my nagging and needling then hopefully their account of it persuade you to do it.

They sent along a few questions to answer and they included my favorite answer in the review. When asked if I will continue to remain connected to the sport as I get older, I replied, "I like to joke that my relationship with gymnastics has been the most enduring one of my life, much more so than any of the romantic ones. (Cue the sound of my Jewish mother sobbing.)"

Sorry Mom! Again. I can't resist. And until you learn how to use a computer and surf the net, I will continue to make this type of affectionate jokes.

Read the rest of the review here and then get thee to the Amazon store! (That's totally what Shakespeare would've written if he had to shill for Hamlet in the 21st Century.)

Friday, July 13, 2012

Tatiana Lysenko's Mature Perspective

Despite beating my favorite Shannon Miller at the 1992 Olympics for the gold medal in the balance beam final, I've pretty much always loved Tatiana Lysenko. She was stylish and performed with so much difficulty--much more than she needed at the time. And many years later when I learned that she is Jewish, I was proud to mentally welcome her to the Tribe of Jewish gymnasts. She's pretty much the best we've ever had. (I was also pleased to see that we both had a similar sort of bushy, unruly hair.)

Gymnastike caught up with her twenty years after Olympic performance in Barcelona and it's evident that she remains as poised as she ever was on the balance beam.

She now lives in San Francisco and works as a lawyer. A lawyah!

It always pleases me when I hear about gymnasts such as Amy Chow, Kerri Strug, and Lysenko--great champions all--who have managed to move onto careers out of the gymnastics sphere. This is not meant as a criticism of those that don't. That many elites stay with a sport in their professional lives is proof that they may have been among the lucky ones who have found their lifelong passion at a young age. But it's just nice to see gymnasts move into careers where their youthful accomplishments don't matter.

Lysenko also seems to be well-adjusted with a healthy perspective on the difficult training of her youth. As an adult, she has an appreciation of the process that made her an Olympic champion. I imagine that training as an elite in the ultra-competitive Soviet system under the tutelage of Oleg Ostapenko couldn't have been easy.

But fortunately for Lysenko, her family had the right attitude about gymnastics and helped her keep things in perspective. After reading this interview, watching Aly Raisman's documentary, and Dominique Mocean's memoir Off Balance, the idea that keeps being driven home is how important the family is in this high-level training, high stress situations.

For Raisman and Lysenko, their families countered these stresses of gymnastics, buffering the athletes from the pressure. I can't imagine that either Raisman's or Lysenko's training was that much easier than Moceanu's during her time at the Karolyis. I think these stories demonstrate how important a part the family plays in the overall development of a female gymnast. A supportive one that acts a defense against the harshness of the elite world can be a tremendous asset. Parents that collude with the sport will make the life of a teen athlete hellish.

Not that I in any way consider the Karolyis to be angelic or their training methods to be benign, but I don't think they're the cardboard villains she makes them out to be. Rather, in Moceanu's book, the biggest culprit seems to be not gymnastics or the Karolyis but a stage father who didn't act as a buffer for his child. (And a mother, who was cowed by her domineering husband, didn't intervene and protect her.) And if it's unfair to lay the blame solely on the shoulders of the family, I think it would also be unfair to say that harsh coaching and the sport was the root of Moceanu's unhappiness. After all, other gymnasts have had a different perspective on the Karolyis.  

Moceanu, at times, seems to come to some sort of understanding of her parents' actions and motivations as she has gotten older largely because she has had to. Those people are her parents and no one wants to go through life angry and resentful of their family. As for former coaches who are not as important to your emotional well-being and your future--it's not nearly as urgent to try to understand their perspectives because once you leave the sport behind, you can leave them behind, too.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Young Alicia on Beam

Sort of fell down the YouTube (gymnastics) rabbit hole and came across this incredible video from 2003 of Alicia Sacramone performing a fierce back handspring-arabian combo on beam. I had no idea that this had once been in her repertoire.

Alicia Sacramone's Farewell?

Though I have been critical at times of Nastia Liukin's comeback, like most viewers and fans, I was incredibly moved Sunday night by the way she handled herself after she fell from bars. That fall looked like it hurt and I felt some of my harder feelings towards Liukin melt as I watched her try to contain her emotions and remount the bar and finish her routine like a champ. And I cheered hard for her as she wrapped up a great gymnastics career on the balance beam to a standing ovation from the crowd. I'm truly pleased that Liukin had the opportunity to go out in such a fashion.

But what about Alicia Sacramone? This gymnast has been around the senior elite ranks longer than Liukin and had also staged a wonderful comeback--she tore her Achilles at the end of October and made it back on two events in record time. She was brilliant on beam and vault throughout Nationals and Trials.

And because of her fantastic performances, fans didn't realize they were seeing perhaps (?) the final elite routines from Sacramone. Most observers gave her a legitimate shot of at least being named as an alternate to the team. That didn't happen for reasons I (grumble, grumble) understand--uneven bars--even if I am not super pleased about it.

Obviously I don't wish that Sacramone had performed poorly instead, making it obvious to fans that we were witnessing her final gymnastics performances as we all recognized when it came to Liukin, but I still wish that she received a similar reception. She, like Liukin, has given her body and soul to this sport. (Chellsie Memmel too!)

There should've been two standing ovations the other night. One for Liukin, who in her fallibility showed a lot of class and strength, and one for Sacramone, who has always shown tremendous heart out on the floor.

Here's Sacramone way back in 2003 performing one of the first floor routines I've ever seen her do. Even back then, she had all of the qualities we've come to love about her--the power, the sass, the attitude.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Book Review over at Get a Grip Gymblog

It's been a little while since I plugged my book so I hope you don't hate me too much for doing it again.

Anyway, Bekah over at the hilarious and insightful site, Get a Grip Gymblog (seriously check out her memes--they are deliciously wicked) reviewed my essay collection and liked it. (I am having a Sally Fields moment right now.)

Essentially, the book is a classic coming of age love story where the love interest is gymnastics. From bat mitzvahs to beam routines, Meyers' maturation & affection in the sport will likely be one you recognize in yourself.

I am flattered. Seriously. (And gymnastics really was my first love. It was a long time before any other romantic interests came along.) I was hoping that other obsessive gym fans could relate to my own Nick Hornby-esque tale of extreme sports fandom.

Check it out for yourself over at Amazon.